Shipyards, Asbestos Exposure, and Mesothelioma
Asbestos was a key component of ships for decades, just like iron, steel, glass, or copper. Although asbestos use on an industrial scale started during the Industrial Revolution, its use on ships took off as ship production exploded to meet the military’s demands in World War II. Men from all over the country found work from Maine to Hawaii enveloped in clouds of asbestos fibers in shipyards operating 24/7/365 for years.
Over time, the number of shipyards decreased, as did the number of Americans employed by them. The country’s 154 private shipyards still employ more than 100,000 people, though asbestos use should be a small fraction of what it was (removing it from older ships may continue).
What is Asbestos?
Asbestos is a natural mineral fiber that is ideal for use on ships. It is:
- Fire and heat-resistant
- Nonconductive of electricity
- Resistant to corrosion
It was also cheap and plentiful during its peak use, but that largely ended when it was heavily regulated in the later 1970s. On ships, asbestos played many roles, but it was primarily used for heat insulation and fireproofing.
What Did Workers Do at Shipyards?
Many people were employed in skilled trades at shipyards. They built, repaired, and re-fitted ships. In addition to those working in administrative and management roles, people employed by shipyards were:
- Maintenance workers
- Sheet metal workers
- Structural fabricators and fitters
- Marine surveyors
- Quality control inspectors
- Naval architects and designers
Outside contractors and truck drivers also would come and go from shipyards.
How Were Shipyard Workers Exposed to Asbestos?
Ships are floating power plants. They burn fuel to heat boilers, turning water into steam and spinning turbines that generate the ship’s electricity. Older ships used steam to power propellers directly.
Given the presence of petroleum fuel, fire is an ever-present threat, especially during wartime. Burning this fuel and creating steam, which is under high pressure, produces tremendous amounts of heat.
Asbestos was used:
- To prevent or limit fires
- To control heat by insulating boilers, incinerators, hot water pipes, and steam pipes
- With electrical equipment
Some of the asbestos-containing products used on ships include:
- Hydraulic assemblies and pumps
- Paints and coatings
- Gaskets and valves
Intact asbestos-containing products aren’t dangerous. They become a threat when fibers become airborne when they’re installed, disturbed, repaired, removed, or simply age. Anyone in the area can inhale or swallow liberated asbestos fibers, whether they’re directly working with asbestos or not.
Shipyard conditions became dangerous when ships were built, repaired, updated, or decommissioned. Many areas where asbestos was used were cramped with poor ventilation. Asbestos fibers had nowhere to go, so they filled the air and ended up on equipment and the floor.
Asbestos from shipyards could go far beyond the workplace. Fibers on work clothes worn home could sicken shipyard employees’ spouses and children.
What are the Dangers of Asbestos Used at Shipyards?
Asbestos fibers can cause severe breathing limitations (asbestosis), lung cancer, and different forms of another deadly cancer – mesothelioma, states the US Department of Health and Human Services. This may occur years or decades after exposure ended.
Inhaled asbestos fibers can be lodged in the lungs. The immune system will try and fail to destroy them. This process causes lung inflammation and scarring. Swallowed asbestos fibers may pass through the digestive system.
Resulting health problems include:
- Asbestosis, which is severe breathing limitations caused by scarring and inflammation due to asbestos fibers and the body’s response to them
- Lung cancer
- Pleural mesothelioma, a rare and deadly cancer affecting the membrane covering the lungs and chest cavity
- Peritoneal mesothelioma, a cancer of the membrane covering the abdominal cavity and organs
- Pericardial mesothelioma, a fatal cancer involving the membrane covering the heart
If you worked in a shipyard when asbestos-containing products were present, you should see your healthcare provider to see if you have any of these medical conditions.
Call Us Today For A Free Consultation
You may be entitled to compensation if you or a loved one worked at a shipyard and are diagnosed with asbestosis, lung cancer, or mesothelioma. Satterley & Kelley lawyers can answer your questions, discuss your legal rights, and how to protect them. Call our Louisville office at 502-589-5600 or toll-free at 855-385-9532. You can also fill out our contact form to schedule a free initial consultation.